Love & Sex

A Complete History of the ‘New York Times’ Use of the Word ‘Pussy’

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The Gray Lady is having a problem — down there.

In an op-ed published yesterday in the New York Times, writer Jesse Sheidlower lamented the stodgy and outdated tendency of major media outlets to use euphemisms in articles that should otherwise contain very explicit profanities. Expletives like fuck, asshole, cunt, cock, and pussy are avoided at all costs, sometimes to particularly hilarious effect. "Even in this essay, I am unable to be clear about many of my examples," Sheidlower notes ironically.

So what's so wrong about "pussy" — arguably one of the most fun, provocative, sensuous words to describe a woman's down-there? The New York Observer approached the Times' standards editor Phil Corbett about the controversial "p" word the Paper of Record has been historically reluctant to reproduce. "We are making case-by-case judgments, based on newsworthiness, context and other factors," Corbett told the Observer. One of those judgments included deciding to dub the noise punk band Perfect Pussy comically "that band with the unprintable name."

To take a closer look at the New York Times' fraught relationship with pussies (note: unfortunately nothing suggestively rhymes with pussy), we trekked through the archives to see just when the institution dared use the harmless five-letter word. Here are pussy's highlights since it's 1855 debut, from the masters of pussy-footing. Are any actually referring to genitals? You be the judge.

1855
Pussy's first time to grace the pages of NYT.
Meaning: Cat. 
Use: "[He] stands no more chance than pussy in a warm location…"

1860
The author makes an extremely unflattering and sexist comparison between cats and women. By the 17th century, the word was being used to refer to women in general.
Meaning: Cat, woman.
Use: "But you mustn't reason with them, any more than you would with your pet cat, and here the analogy becomes very strong, for what after all is pussy but a soft, lazy, luxurious animal that does nothing but take care of her person and purr when you pet her, but of whom you must beware when she once gets her back up."

1882
The word pussy comes up cleverly and euphemistically in an article about popping the question.
Meaning: A cat, but used within the context of bartering for a woman's hand in marriage, it carries different weight.
Use: "Say yes, pussy."

1882
For the first time, the Times makes use of pussy in the derogatory. In an article entitled "Men and Events Abroad."
Meaning: A cowardly, weak man.
Use: "He is a bulky man; not pussy or Falstafean in girth."

1911
In a wink to the audience, the Times published a suggestive headline entitled, "Aroused about Pussy: Vigorous Protests Against the Times' Views on Cats."
Meaning: Cats, but let's be honest: Those editors knew better.
Use: See above.

1971
A reference to the 1964 James Bond Goldfinger's famously euphemistic character.
Meaning: Honor Blackman's famous Bond girl.
Use: "…nicknaming a stewardess on one of his planes Pussy Galore."

2014
The Times can't avoid using the Russian punk rock protest group's name. It's too ubiquitous. Almost all of NYT's "pussy" uses in the last year have been Pussy Riot-related.
Meaning: The name of a widely publicized and controversial band.
Use: "Russian protest group Pussy Riot were assaulted…"

 

Image via Veer.